AIR21 started afresh in the new year, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup on Wednesday night with a 102-100 squeaker over Talk ‘N Text at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Express leaned on the clutch plays of Joseph Yeo and KG Canaleta while getting solid numbers from rejuvenated Asi Taulava en route to only their third victory in 12 games.
Although still at the bottom of the standings at 3-9 (win-loss), the Express pulled within reach of five teams bunched at 4-7 and gave themselves a shot at a playoff berth with a sweep of their final two games.
“At least we’re still alive and kicking,” Express coach Franz Pumaren said. “But (the joy from) this victory is gonna be shortlived. We can’t rely on the results of other teams.”
The Express dealt the Tropang Texters, one of only four teams with records above .500, their fourth loss in 11 outings.
The game was as tight as the traffic outside the Big Dome as it saw 12 lead changes and seven deadlocks, before Yeo scored four straight points to give the Express the lead for good at 99-97 with 35 seconds remaining.
Taulava, the league’s oldest player at 40, continued to display a youthful zest as he registered his sixth double-double of the conference with 23 points and 18 boards on top of two assists, and one block.
Canaleta tallied 16 points, five boards, and four assists, while Yeo, starting to get comfortable as the de facto point guard, finished with 13 points and 12 assists for the Express, who had six players scoring in double figures.
The Texters’ loss put to naught the remarkable outside shooting of Jimmy Alapag, who bombarded the Express with six triples on the way to a 20-point night as he able supported backcourt partner Jayson Castro, who had a team-high 21markers.
Air21 9102) – Taulava 23, Canaleta 16, Custodio 15, Matias 13, Yeo 13, Camson 10, Manuel 8, Cardona 4, Espiritu 0, Arboleda 0, Sharma 0
TNT (100) – Castro 21, Alapag 20, De Ocampo 14, Reyes R. 11, Baclao 11, Seigle 8, Fonacier 6, Anthony 4, Reyes J. 3, Carey 2, Williams 0
Quarterscores: 23-21, 45-46, 75-77, 102-100